Lectionary Reflection: Luke 24:1-12 The Wonder of it All

Easter.  Resurrection.  Alleluia.  Repeat, repeat, year after year.  Yawn?  Some firmly believe in the resurrection.  Others do not, and I have never seen an Easter service that changed anyone’s mind.  In part, it is because human nature is stubborn in belief.  (In order to avoid a 300 page post, I am going to point out one thing about the Easter Story…and then come back next year for more).

Many who firmly believe undoubtedly have doubts, questions and things they might normally be skeptical about only they won’t “let” themselves think that way.  That is unfortunate, and just wrong for many reasons.  God can handle the doubts, questions and bits of skepticism, but not if we close our minds and refuse to be honest with ourselves.

Many who do not believe, on the other hand, are most often ruled by their doubts as if one question negates the whole idea.  That is equally wrong on so many levels.  We have no trouble believing the earth is billions of years old, the stars are billions of miles away, or that the earth is revolving and moving around the sun rather than the sun moving around the earth—despite the evidence of our senses.  You might say “but these are scientific facts and there is the math,” but how many people actually understand the math?  And yet we believe these things readily enough…

Luke, himself, was a scientist (though I do not know if his math was any good).  Anyway, he was as close to being a scientist as one got in the first century.  He was a physician, and as any doctor will tell you, you need to research the disease and examine the patient thoroughly to be of any help.  A misdiagnosis can be damaging or even fatal.  Apparently, Luke approached the telling of the gospel with the same mindset.  He researched, talked to many eyewitnesses, and got the facts before reporting to Theophilus.  This goes a long way in suggesting that we get the straight scoop from Luke.  I invite you to keep that in mind whenever you read Luke and his companion work, the book of Acts.

With that said, there is something else that comes to my mind.

Many of the skeptics believe the story of the resurrection may have just been made up.  Maybe the disciples stole the body and invented the whole idea of the resurrection.  Maybe it was no more than a massive act of self-justification for all those years invested.  The problem is, any honest literary analysis of the gospel will utterly dispel these ideas.

Unlike so many theologians who claim insight from literary analysis, I have actually told and written stories (which you can readily see if you have ever visited the Fiction Side by clicking on the icon to the left).  I have spent a lifetime studying and learning about stories and storytelling where most theologians have only encountered literature as a consumer.  I often find the so-called literary analysis of such theologians little better than literary nonsense.  But here, let me tell you something about myself and one more thing about Luke (and Matthew, Mark and John for that matter) before I make my point.

For me, I have read, edited, critiqued and etc. enough beginner stories for a lifetime.  Sometimes, the beginner kills everyone off or kills off the hero in an effort to “be clever.”  Most often, though, beginners have a real problem with what I call the “Happily Ever After” syndrome.  Everything is tied up with ribbons and bows at the end of the story, and everyone lives happily ever after.  Sadly, that is not the way real life works.  Beginners invariably have a real problem in telling real life stories where heroes have doubts, emotions get confused, relationships get complex, and nothing ever, ever gets fully explained or tied up neatly with ribbons and bows.  That is a bit of literary reality.  There is a reason why the master storytellers are masters.

Now, Luke (and Matthew, Mark and John) were all beginners.  We are not talking Homer or Ovid or Virgil here.  We have no evidence of any work after the gospel and book of Acts of anything Luke wrote.  He probably carried on some personal correspondence, but he was not, by nature or inclination, a storyteller.  He was a physician. He was not a professional writers in any sense of the word (and neither were Matthew, Mark or John).

So, if the story of the resurrection was just made up, like the disciples stole the body and invented the tale, we should expect a very different sort of story than the one we have.  We should expect the apostles to be out dancing in the streets, vindicated, our heroes all happily praising God and things tied up neatly with ribbons and bows.  But that is not what we get.

The apostles saw Jesus die.  They had no doubt he was dead, and they were in hiding, afraid for their own lives.  (They did not want to be dead, too).  When the women told them, they did not believe it.  Peter (and John) wondered what it could all mean.  Thomas doubted so badly, the Lord had to condescend to let him touch his wounds just to prove that he was alive.  This is not the kind of thing you would expect from a “just a made up” story.  The heroes in hiding, afraid, doubting, skeptical, wondering, questioning, conflicted…  Please!

This is the kind of story that reflects reality.  How would you react if a person you had been intimate with for years got arrested by the authorities and given the death sentence for the very acts where you had been a willing participant (accessory)?  Lay low for a while?  I would think in the least.  And what then if the person you knew full well to be dead—that you saw the death sentence carried out and knew where the person was buried—was said to be alive and coming to visit you?  What would you honestly think?  Not likely to be dancing in the streets.

Luke is an interesting case.  He researched his story, a point often lost on many theologians.  And then, what he wrote just smacks of reality.  It does not read like a beginner telling a made-up story.  The truth is, even after Jesus was proved to be alive again, the apostles still remained in hiding out of fear for a long time…right up to the day of Pentecost in fact…but that is another story.

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